The North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement to the Korean Central News Agency declaring North Korea’s nuclear status:
We had already taken the resolute action of pulling out of the NPT and have manufactured nukes for self-defence to cope with the Bush administration’s evermore undisguised policy to isolate and stifle the DPRK.
Its nuclear weapons will remain nuclear deterrent for self-defence under any circumstances.
1. Has North Korea actually assembled nuclear weapons?
I am, as of this moment, leaning toward yes for a very odd reason. The President of Kim Il Sung Military University gave a speech in Korean (translated by FBIS) praising Kim Jong Il for his “ultra-hard line” including:
… complete withdrawal from the NPT, re-operation of atomic power plants, reprocessing of nuclear fuel rods, legislation of nuclear weapons possession (haengmugi poyuu’i po’pchehwa), and the official proclamation of nuclear deterrent possession (haego’kcheryo’k soyuu’i kongsik ch’o’nmyo’ng).”
That kind of very specific claim about the bureaucratic procedure for completing a weapons program strikes me as indicative of a real decision.
2. Why did North Korea make the announcement today?
The simplest explanation is the one offered by the North Koreans:
the administration turned down our just request and adopted it as its policy not to co-exist with the DPRK through the president’s inaugural address and the state of the union address and the speech made by the secretary of State at the Congress hearing to get its approval, etc.
The North Koreans have been making a big deal about our rhetoric, particularly Rice’s characterization of North Korea as an “outpost of tyranny” in her confirmation hearing.
Its not clear to me why the rhetoric matters so much, although one might imagine this has something to do with internal politics. Bureaucratic politics aside, even a rational actor might conclude that the hostile rhetoric reflected continuing divisions within the Bush Administration that made negotiations futile—in fact, Chris Nelson reported on 2 February that the Bush Administration had still not held “a Principals meeting on what specifically to take to the next 6 Party if one can be scheduled.”
So, perhaps the rhetoric and leaks about North Korean violations of the Bush Administration’s red line regarding the transfer of nuclear materials were enough to make the difference.
We’ll know for sure in about 50 years.